Club Atlético de Madrid are on the verge of repeating their triumph of two years ago when they claimed top prize in the inaugural UEFA Europa League. Summer signings Adrián López and Falcao, the team's leading scorers in both the Liga and in Europe, have played a vital role in Los Rojiblancos' campaign thus far. Furthermore, the winter arrival of coach Diego Simeone has helped to form a special bond between players and fans.
Story of the season
Los Colchoneros began their European journey in the third qualifying round with a 4-1 aggregate victory against Norwegian side Strømsgodset IF, while Vitória SC were Atlético's subsequent victims, losing 6-0 over two legs. A successful group stage ensued with the men in red and white finishing ahead of Udinese Calcio, to top the section with 13 points. Simeone's first European game in charge came against former club S.S. Lazio in the round of 32, in which he oversaw a 4-1 aggregate win.
Beşiktaş JK were then dismissed by the Spanish side en route to a quarter-final tie against Hannover 96. A narrow 2-1 win at the Vicente Calderón preceded a victory by the same scoreline in Germany, setting up a last-four meeting against familiar opposition: Valencia CF, the team Atlético overcame in the 2010 quarter-finals. Two Falcao goals helped them to a 4-2 first-leg win and Adrian's volley at Mestalla earned an 11th successive win in the competition.
Major UEFA final pedigree
P5 W2 L3*
2009/10 UEFA Europa League – 2-1 v Fulham FC (aet)
1985/86 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup – 0-3 v FC Dynamo Kyiv
1973/74 European Cup – 0-4 v FC Bayern München (replay after 1-1 draw)
1962/63 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup – 1-5 v Tottenham Hotspur FC
1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup – 4-1 v ACF Fiorentina (1-1 home, 3-0 away)
*Atlético also won the 2010 UEFA Super Cup – 2-0 v FC Internazionale Milano – and the 1975 European / South American Cup against CA Independiente (2-1 on aggregate).
Record against Athletic
Atlético are obviously no strangers to Athletic, fellow members of the inaugural Spanish championship in 1929. They have met 150 times in the Liga, Atlético claiming 64 wins to Athletic's 59. Their cup rivalry goes even further back, to 1921 when Athletic beat the Madrid side 4-1 in the Copa del Rey final. Two subsequent showpiece meetings have brought one victory apiece, for Athletic in 1956 and Atlético in 1985, while the bragging rights from eight other knockout ties were also shared evenly.
This season Athletic won their home Liga fixture 3-0 in October with the help of two Fernando Llorente goals, but a Falcao double consigned them to a 2-1 loss at the Vicente Calderón in March.
Simeone's arrival on 23 December brought about a change in playing style and reignited a passion among fans that had been fading in previous months. As a member of Atlético's 1996 Liga and Copa del Rey winning squad, 'El Cholo' received a hero's welcome on his return to the banks of the Manzanares river.
Quote: Juanfran, Atlético defender/midfielder
"We had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get through to this deciding match, it was something we all dreamed about. History and tradition say that Atlético should be up there fighting for trophies like these. We want to continue reaching landmarks so we have to win this one for ourselves and for our fans."
Along with hitting 23 goals in 31 Liga appearances in his debut season at the Vicente Calderón, Falcao has also managed ten in 14 in the Europa League – a competition in which he struck a record 17 times en route to victory with FC Porto last term. He is now third in the list of all-time scorers in the UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup.
Not quite receiving as many headlines as Falcao, striker Adrián has been no less important to Atlético's cause this season and has featured in every game since the third qualifying round – 18 matches in total. The adidas Golden Boot winner with a victorious Spain side at last summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Adrián has found the target eight times in the UEFA Europa League (group stage on) this season.
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